This is the week of the English royal wedding of William and Kate, an event the entire world is looking forward to with unabashed excitement. It isn’t every day that an ordinary, albeit gorgeous young woman marries a real Prince and becomes a Queen-in-Waiting. I am imagining how much her life will change and possibly how much freshness she can bring to the Royal Family.
Can you imagine, rather than the formal luncheon being served after the wedding, if William and Kate had their choice what would be served? I think it might be something they enjoyed often at the pubs in St. Andrew’s, Fish and Chips with a good local beer served fresh from the tap. Can’t you just see all the guests in the finery toasting the brilliance of the break from convention? That would be so much fun, even if we can only envision it.
When I think of fish and chips, I am instantly drooling over the thought of crispy fried foods, one of my favorite ways to cook, especially when it includes potatoes. The primary focus for correctly cooked fried foods is the heat of the oil. If it is too cool when you add the food, the oil is absorbed making the food greasy. If the oil is too hot, the outside of the food cooks before the interior. The best way to manage this is to use a thermometer, one made to use with candy and deep-frying. If you do not have a thermometer, drop 1/4 tsp of the batter or a small cube of bread in the oil. If it sinks to the bottom, the oil is not hot enough. If it rises to the top and turns golden within a minute, the oil is perfect. If the batter burns immediately, the oil is too hot.
If you add too much food at one time, the oil will cool off dramatically. You can help this by having the food at room temperature and not adding too much at one time. It may be a bit time consuming, but you will be much happier in the long run. When making the batter for the fish, using rice flour helps give you a tender batter because there is no gluten to worry about. Oh, and one more thing … ALWAYS cook the potatoes before you fry the fish. No matter how careful you are, if you reverse the order, the fries will end up with a fishy flavor!!
You can use any type of fish you like for this dish, but a clean white fish is traditional. Various types of cod and bass are common, but my personal favorite is halibut. A thick, mild white fish cuts into substantial pieces that remain moist and tender when deep-fried. If you want you can cut these into “fingers” and make mock fish sticks that your kids will love!
Depending on whom you ask, French fries or pommes frites were actually created in Belgium. This debate will probably go on until the end with no clear winner. No matter, all I know is I love them, the thinner the better! Originally from South America, the returning Spanish Conquistadors introduced potatoes to southern Europe. Thought to be poisonous, it took a very long time for them to become a favorite of many cuisines across the globe. Some believe that a French army officer, taken prisoner during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) was fed a diet of potatoes during his time in a German prison. He came to like them and introduced them to King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette upon his return. And of course, whatever the Queen liked became a darling of the aristocracy. I for one and extremely glad that the Germans were so gracious to their prisoners, LOL.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Rice flour and soda water may sound like strange ingredients to you, but they give your batter more of a tempura-like texture, light and crispy. I like the crunch that a little cornmeal gives to the batter, making this a little like what is used to make fried catfish. Hot oil is key to success, so use a candy/deep-fry thermometer to monitor the heat. For the best French fries, fry once at a lower temperature (to cook the interior of the fries) and a second time at a higher temperature (to crisp the outside). If you want to be traditional, wrap in clean newspaper and serve with malt vinegar.
Kitchen Skill: Cutting Round Fruits and Vegetables
The hardest part of cutting anything with rounded edges is making it stable. The easiest way is to either cut in half or take a slice off of one edge, creating a flat surface. Lay the cut edge down and slice either lengthwise or crosswise.
The second challenge is how to keep from cutting yourself while slicing the rounded items. Always use a freshly sharpened knife so that you don’t have to press down to make your cuts. Draw the knife through the item, using the full length of the blade, letting the knife do the work.
We usually start from the short side, work our way up to the top of the rounded edge and then back down the other side. The knife is most likely to slip on the downward angle, so when you get to the top, spin the item and start cutting from the bottom up again. Then if the knife slips, it will hit the cutting board instead of your fingers or thumb!
Homemade Tartar Sauce
Jane Evans Bonacci © 2008
Yield: 1-1/4 cups sauce
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or more to taste
1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
2 tsp capers, drained, rinsed, patted dry, and chopped
1 tbsp dill pickles, chopped finely
Leaves from 2 to 3 sprigs fresh dill, finely chopped, of 1 tsp dried dill
1 cup regular or low-fat Hellman’s or Best Foods mayonnaise
In a small mixing bowl, combine lemon juice and mustard powder. Add remaining ingredients and stir until smooth. Cover and chill 20 to 30 minutes to let the flavors combine. Can be made up to 2 days ahead.
Taste and adjust seasonings before serving. Let sit at room temperature about 20 minutes before serving to enhance the flavors.
French Fried Potato “Chips” or Fries
Jane Evans Bonacci © 2008
Yield: about 4 servings
Canola or peanut oil, for deep-frying
4 to 6 large russet potatoes
Heat the oil in a deep fryer, tall skillet, or Dutch oven to 325°F on a candy/deep-frying thermometer.
Scrub potatoes and peel if you prefer but it isn’t necessary. Cut them into strips 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch wide. Rinse off the excess starch and pat dry with paper towels. Take care with this step because any water will cause the hot oil to pop.
Working in batches to avoid overcrowding, carefully place potatoes in the hot oil. Shake or stir occasionally so that potatoes don’t stick together.
Fry 2 to 3 minutes, using a slotted spoon or “spider,” remove potatoes from the oil and transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. They will not be fully cooked yet and will still look basically raw.
Raise the oil temperature to 375°F. Return potatoes to hot oil in batches and cook until golden brown and crispy, about 4 more minutes, shaking or stirring occasionally.
Transfer to paper towel-lined baking sheet, immediately sprinkle with salt to taste, and keep warm in a low (170°F to 200°F) oven.
Crisply Fried Fish
Jane Evans Bonacci © 2008
Yield: 2 to 4 servings
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup white cornmeal, optional (see Variation)
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
12 oz cold club soda water (NOT tonic water!)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Dash Sriracha or other hot sauce, optional
Canola or peanut oil for frying
1/2 cup rice flour, for dredging
16 oz solid white fish fillets, such as Pacific halibut, cut into 4 (4 oz) portions
Lemons, cut into wedges
Make the Batter: In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients – flours, cornmeal, baking powder, Old Bay, onion and garlic powders, salt and pepper. In a 2-cup glass measuring cup whisk soda water, egg, and hot sauce (if using) and pour into the flour mixture. Whisk until smooth. Allow to sit at room temperature while you prepare the fish for cooking. Refrigerate if not using right away.
In a large, deep pot such as a Dutch oven, pour in enough oil to fill about halfway. The amount will depend on the size of your container. Attach a deep-fry/candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Heat oil over medium-high heat to 375°F.
For the Fish: Next to stove, set up an assembly line of ingredients in shallow dishes; the fish, 1/2 cup rice flour, and batter. Dredge the fish pieces in the rice flour, shake off excess and then dip them into the batter, letting the excess drip off.
Carefully lower the battered fish into the 375°F oil. Fry the fish for 4 to 5 minutes until crispy and brown. Turn if they aren’t completely covered with the hot oil to brown the second side. Remove and drain the fish on paper towels; season lightly with salt. Drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Serve immediately with fried potatoes and tartar sauce. Arrange wedges of lemons at the edge of the plates. Serve additional wedges in a bowl for the table.
VARIATION: If you prefer to use all-purpose flour (or don’t have the special flours on hand), you can eliminate the rice flour and cornmeal from the batter. Replace with all-purpose flour and mix with seasonings.
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